"I was amazed to see one of our senior parishioners who broke her hand from shoulder to elbow on Saturday came on her wheelchair holding her hand in a sling to be part of this long-awaited groundbreaking ceremony for our new parish church. Nothing could stop her and all others to come and witness this great event," exclaimed Fr. Tomy Manjaly, Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Strathmore Parish in Alberta. This touching scene unfolded at their official groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, August 1, 2023.
The unwavering support and commitment of the community were palpable at the event. It is a significant milestone for the Sacred Heart Parish - the transformation of the former IGA Grocery Store located in downtown Strathmore into a place of worship. Led by Fr. Tomy Manjaly who blessed the site, the ceremony marked the transformative period for the parish.
Parish Council Coordinator Tomas Rochford shared his delight at the community's participation in the event. "It was wonderful to see all the parishioners and local residents come out to enjoy the celebration; it was a cross-section of our community: patriarchs and matriarchs from long-established families, families with small children who recently joined our parish, members of our large Filipino community, and even some individuals who have been ‘testing the waters’ to learn more about the faith as they contemplate ‘swimming the Tiber’ to become Catholic," he said.
Fundraising Chair Nettie Hendricks also shared her emotional connection to the project. "I saw the tears on the faces of some members who were here when the previous church was built in 1953, and I felt a connection to them since I have been there myself since 1960," she said.
Indeed, the persistent support of the community underscores the significance of this project - not just as a physical transformation of a building, but also as a spiritual journey for the entire community. As Hendricks pointed out, “Strathmore has grown exponentially over the past few years and the number of parish families has increased dramatically since Covid retired. The new church will be an anchor for these families to celebrate Sacraments and faith.”
Rochford added, “It will encourage many former or distant Catholics to return and come ‘try it out’, which would be wonderful because we have such a holy pastor who is our spiritual leader, who celebrates Holy Mass in a manner that inspires prayer and sacrifice, and our parish has been striving to offer many means to welcome and form new and experienced members in the fullness of the Catholic Faith.”
A space for prayer & centre for the work of mercy
Sacred Heart church is not only undergoing a transformation of a former grocery store into a place of worship, it is also set to house relics from St. John Paul II, making it a significant site for prayer, contemplation, and pilgrimage. (Read “St. John Paul II’s relics in our Diocese”, by Sara Francis in Faithfully, 2021). Rochford hopes that the new church space can serve as a hub for faith formation activities, drawing inspiration from the teachings of St. John Paul II. See walkthrough video for the anticipated Shrine Chapel of St. John Paul II.
The new church design will also include a commercial kitchen, which anticipates the need to assist families struggling to make ends meet and the growing homeless population in Strathmore. The community hall, part of the new design, will provide another gathering place for special events such as wedding receptions and smaller conventions.
Hendrick expresses her delight at this development. "As a Christian, we are called to work for social justice so I am especially happy to see the commercial kitchen because it represents the first step to setting up an outreach program for the less fortunate," she says.
Rochford resonates with this sentiment, visualizing the central location of the church as an important opportunity to serve the local residents through corporal and spiritual acts of mercy. "From running potential weekday soup kitchens to weekly Bible studies to 24-hour adoration, we aim to offer Christ to all who step foot in our new building," he shares.
The Way of Beauty
Rochford, a local resident whose parents moved to Strathmore six years ago to be near his family, shares their anticipation for the completion of the new church. “They are especially excited by the fact that we have tried to build a church that is in architectural and artistic continuity with the entirety of the Catholic tradition," he says. His parents, who grew up before the Second Vatican Council, hold fond memories of beautiful Masses in beautiful churches.
Rochford also shares their deep longing after witnessing many churches lose their sense of beauty. Quoting Bishop Barron, he says that the Catholic community is finally moving out of the period of beige Catholicism, re-embracing the Way of Beauty in the universal Church. "Our small-town parish church will be a humble contribution to this renaissance of Catholic culture in Canada,” he adds.
"Our architecture team, led by Mr. Jun Lee, was able to design a beautiful neo-Romanesque style church from the bones of a grocery store!" Rochford says. (Read more: “Transforming a Grocery Store into a Church” by Brent Wiley, 2018) He reassures that no one will mistake the new building for any secular building because the external look and the internal forms speak the language of the Catholic faith in wood, metal, and drywall.
Interest continues to grow in the unique transformation of this downtown building. For a glimpse of this transformation, the Parish has shared a video link on their website: https://youtu.be/ASEc_JutFgA
Relying on your prayers & support
Fr. Tomy Manjaly conveys his deep appreciation for all those who have supported their church transformation project through their time, talent, and resources. "I can't stop thanking God for all those who have helped us in various ways to make this day possible," says Fr. Manjaly. He acknowledges that while they've made a strong start, the journey is far from over. "We continue to depend on the generosity of so many good people to complete the task which we have just begun."
The project cost is approximately $10M. To date, just over $6M has been collected through the generous support of the parish community. The parish remains optimistic about addressing the remaining capital shortfall of $3M through the collective efforts of the community.
Hendricks, committed to continuing fundraising efforts both within and outside the parish community, expresses her hope for the future. "With the tangible presence of construction, we will see some additional donations to help us cross the financial finish line," she says.
As Sacred Heart Parish commences this monumental journey, the energy and anticipation within the parish remain vibrant. They extend their heartfelt gratitude to the good people of the Diocese for their unwavering prayerful and financial support. They humbly request the continued generosity and prayers of the community to help them bring this project to completion.
Photos courtesy of Lynn Dumont, Sacred Heart Parish, Strathmore.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers